Sunday, May 24, 2015

How a Movie can be Screwed by its Trailer

Besides being a professional screenwriter and producer, I also consult with Indie Filmmakers about their projects. I have found there are times when my most valuable advice is NOT about --

-- the development of the script... 
-- Or the issues concerning an up coming production...
-- But on the Movie Trailer created to promote their film.  

Marketing any production (film/TV/Internet) is always a challenge, but the mission becomes more difficult if the production lacks obvious promotional assets like marketable actor(s) or a hot filmmaker. 

The movie trailer has always been the consistently reliable weapon for any filmmaker to count on as the cornerstone of their marketing campaign with or without other assets (such as a star/hot director). In fact, I believe the last decade has seen the power of movie trailers to market a project only increase with modern audiences embracing Internet related videos that are entertaining and only take up two to three minutes of their time. 

The challenge for modern filmmakers is to come up with an engaging movie trailer that lives up to the higher expectations in the marketplace. And being successful often times requires drawing upon totally different aspects of the art and craft the filmmaker used during the original production. 

One of my first professional jobs in the entertainment industry was creating thirty and sixty second spots/promos/trailers for a TV station in Oxnard, California. My job was to highlight the quality of the prime time movie broadcast every night so audiences would tune in. I didn't know it at the time, but my job was one of the best training grounds for a career as a producer... and screenwriter. 
I will point out that what I created over two decades ago would be laughable now. Like most aspects of our culture, the world of Movie Trailers has evolved at an accelerated pace to keep up with the media sophistication of modern audiences. 

However, in a strange way, the creative construction of a movie trailer for a mass commercial audience has not become more complex, but has in fact become more consistent in the way the storytelling beats are organized. This is especially true when the movie trailer is promoting a "genre" film/TV show/Internet project. 

Because so many filmmakers today have a toe in every aspect of the filmmaking process, including marketing, I thought it would be interesting to examine the creative construction of a  movie trailer. For the first thoughts on the subject I chose a recently released trailer promoting an indie Horror movie, “Anarchy Parlor.” I apologize ahead of time to the filmmakers involved in this particular project for attempting to score creative points by disecting their trailer. But there are two reasons that I chose this film trailer – 

1) The trailer for “Anarchy Parlor” is a professionally executed example of an Indie horror/slasher movie. The overall quality of the trailer is more than strong enough to weather the constructive criticism I’m about to dish out.

2) The “Anarchy Parlor” trailer does commit a mistake that is worth noting with the purpose of enlighting other filmmakers about the art and craft of creating a movie trailer. 

So join me in watching the“Anarchy Parlor” TRAILER HERE See if you can spot the problem I have with the way it has been executed.  

Did you spot it?  
I believe the movie trailer seems to start all over again at the :53 second mark.

The problem with the "Anarchy Parlor" trailer is the structure, the beats of laying out the story, and that's why we end up with this "restart" feeling in the trailer.  
The “script” for a movie trailer “can be” (quotation marks around those two words because it doesn’t have to be) very similar to the structure of a movie script. And if the trailer is for a genre movie, more adherence to a formal structure is demanded when laying out the beats. Conversely, if the the trailer is for a non-genre film (meaning a storyline that is unusual/problematic/offbeat... Comedy or Drama, or a genre project like SF that is challenging thematically, etc.), their is much more room for the creators of the trailer to experiment with different beats, images... anything and everything regarding the selling of the film to mainstream audiences. 

But the trailer for “Anarchy Parlor” is promoting a horror/slasher genre movie, and therefore the conventions of structure must at least be recognized. The trailer for starts with an introduction of the "killer." Quotation marks around the word killer because perhaps we're probably not seeing the real killer at the beginning of the trailer, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that the filmmakers went for the creative beat of a setup/tease beat of the tattoo artist choice and it doesn't work... because there is nothing mysterious/creepy/intriguing/foreboding that is exceptional, and demanding your attention. This creative choice was made over the more standard conventional choice -- setting up the main characters/"victims" as the first beat in the movie trailer.

The next mistake by the filmmakers is to include (at the :40 second mark in the trailer) presumably one of the main characters/"victims" talking to the same tattoo artist seen earlier. So by only focusing on one character here, it suggests the movie will be about one main protagonist. Nevermind this part of the trailer allows us to definitely rule out the guy we saw at the beginning of the trailer as the real killer. Not only is the true identity of the real killer almost never shown in a professionally produced movie trailer (which would eliminate any mystery or suspense for your moviegoer), the young woman featured in this part of the trailer also says (via her V.O.), "That girl is a tattoo artist," a reference to someone different than man we first meet at the beginning of the trailer. 
"We're here on vacation..." is also said by the main character in her Voice Over during a sequence that features a montage of shots that builds toward the implication of violence.

And then at the :50 second mark, the most noticible problem kicks in when the movie trailer seems to start all over again. 
At the fifty second mark we see images of kids partying on vacation in some foreign country... eventually running into trouble when at least one of the characters decides to visit a tattoo parlor. Everything we see feels like the movie's first act set up, Act one in this horror story, and that we would need to do in the trailer is move forward and lay out the highlights and thrills of the movie's final two acts. 
But the problem is that False Start. 
Modern audiences have been mentally conditioned to expect certain structural beats in a genre trailer. And if the filmmakers/producer want to connect with their audience, adhering to the structure of a genre movie trailer is a big deal. 
There is no reason to throw your targeted audience mentally off kilter and risk the subconscious negative vibes that they can't articulate, but definitely feel. 

One more time, I will reiterate -- the preview for “Anarchy Parlor” is solid, and I'm sure viewers who enjoy the horror/slasher genre will be attracted by the professional quality of the trailer to seek out the movie.  
My dissection above is meant only as words of advice to indie filmmakers when they create a professional movie trailer used to market their project.